Opinion: M&G is real money and should not be wasted

Students can use M&G as an opportunity to practice financial responsibility

ASU students are known for two things: innovation, and spending their M&G long before the semester ends.

Maroon and Gold Dollars, or M&G, are declining balance dollars that can be spent at various on-campus ASU locations for food, school supplies, dorm supplies and more. Each semester, thousands of students receive anywhere from $55 to $1,050 on their Sun Cards, depending on which meal plan they choose.

Similar to real money, M&G can either be used efficiently or wastefully. Unfortunately, many students become tempted by all they can purchase without using paper money or bank cards — whether it be coffee from Starbucks, late-night pizzas from Domino’s, or snacks from one of the various P.O.D. Markets.

Many blow through their M&G quickly under the justification that it is not the same as using "real" money, often because their parents may be the ones actually paying for their meal plan.

However, M&G is, in fact, real money, and students should learn to budget it as such. 

As students go to college, their spending habits can reflect their overall greater independence as a whole. With many students having greater autonomy than ever before, it's important to take the new privilege with a sense of responsibility. How their money is spent is a crucial part of this. 

Being a freshman, I know there are times when getting a coffee or a crepe between classes is appetizing, and each time I go to spend M&G I have to consider whether it's worth it. Like most students, I often spend even when it isn't a smart decision — it's just good to have the awareness. 

The trend of lavishly spending M&G is so widely accepted that students may not recognize it reflects poor financial responsibility. 

College students should be especially concerned by this, as most take out loans and remain in debt for years after graduation. Saving as much money as possible should be a goal for all ASU students, and M&G can serve as a tool to practice responsible financial practice.

Kelvin Wong, a clinical assistant professor in the W.P. Carey School of Business's economics department, said students should think carefully about how they spend money. 

“For some students, financial independence is new,” Wong said. “If you see a bag of candy in front of you, you have to ask yourself if it’s in your best interest to buy it. If you get to the end of the semester and only have $20 left, the couple dollars you spent on candy earlier on suddenly becomes more relevant.”

Students should aim to use their balance predominantly as a complement to their meal plans. When they run out of dining hall meal swipes or just need food on the go, M&G can be used at various locations on campus for a more flexible dining experience.

It would also benefit students to consider how M&G can be used on other necessary everyday items. The P.O.D. Markets have products such as toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, laundry detergent and more. 

These should take priority over inessential, consumable products, like getting Starbucks every day. By saving M&G for more useful items that need to be bought anyways, students can save money they would otherwise have to pull from their wallets. 

It obviously isn't the end of the world to burn through M&G. It's designed to be spent and literally doesn't have any value outside of the confines of the University. But being frugal with money, no matter its value, is an important practice, especially in college. 

Of course, M&G should be used for enjoyment as well — that's just not all it should be used for.

“Ultimately money should be used for happiness, and I think you should occasionally buy things that make you happy,” Wong said. “You should just remember to think about your future self and be sure you don’t jeopardize tomorrow with the actions you take today.”

On occasion, it's OK to use M&G for a candy bar or a social outing to Jamba Juice — students should just be cautious to not make mindless spending a habit.

In fact, meal plan M&G funds roll from one semester to the next but are forfeit after the summer session, so students should aim to spend it all by then to take full advantage of their prepaid balance.

Budgeting M&G can teach students fundamental aspects of financial responsibility. Knowing what is worth spending money on and having the discipline to save both go a long way in helping students adjust to living as financially independent people.

Reach the columnist at jkbeneve@asu.edu or follow @JacobBenevento on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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